The Myth of the ADHD Cure
I don’t know about you, but the word “cure” provokes an instantaneous reaction in me of pure revulsion. The left side of my lip starts to curl into a snarl as my eyes begin to roll back into my head. Okay, you get the gist. Over the decades I have had the opportunity to hear of cures from teachers, therapists, online forum folk, friends, relatives, and even well-meaning strangers on the street. As the parent of a child who has autism as well as all the symptoms of ADHD, I am constantly besieged with stories of miraculous recoveries. Although many suggestions fall into the realm of well-meaning advice, there are still snake oil salesmen out there ready to take your money and time.
It is rather heartbreaking for parents who have a child who has special challenges to be lured with myths of a cure. There are some parents who will lose their health, their finances, and more importantly, precious time with enjoy their child because they are addicted to spending all their time pursuing the latest cures. What I am about to say may not garnish hits or page views or get me a guest spot on Oprah, but there simply Is no cure for disorders like autism or ADHD. It is my opinion that your time would be much better spent in learning how to help your child to manage his or her symptoms. And of course acceptance goes a long way to help maintain your sanity and to help your child adjust to the realities of his or her challenges.
We are going to take a look at some of the cures out there for ADHD and see if they hold up to scrutiny.
When I first heard about special diets for autism and ADHD, I was extremely skeptical. My skepticism was especially provoked when I heard diet and “cure” mentioned in the same sentence. I was completely turned off to the idea of trying a special diet for my son due to all the cure propaganda associated with these diets. I had wished that someone would have just said, “Some individuals who have autism or ADHD have food allergies and intolerances. And if you take care of these food intolerances and/or allergies through diet then the child feels better and some of their symptoms may improve.” Okay that…I could logically understand and sure it is worth a try.
My philosophy is that between the extremes - “Diet cures ADHD” and “Diets don’t work at all to improve ADHD symptoms” - there is some middle ground where the truth exists. In our situation, my son Max is on the Gluten-free Casein-free diet. We had him tested for food allergies and he was found to have reactions to both wheat and dairy products.
Did his physical allergic responses diminish? Yes. His eczema and his gastrointestinal problems improved dramatically. Did this, in turn, help him to feel better and be able to concentrate and think more clearly? Of course. If you were feeling physically ill or in discomfort all the time, you would most likely feel irritable and your ability to focus and concentrate would be impaired. Thus, it is conceivable that diet can improve some of the symptoms of ADHD and autism.
But did a diet cure my son? No. This was not our experience.
There is a huge difference between something which can aid in helping to improve symptoms and a cure. You can read more about our experience using the GFCF diet in my post, “Should you or Your Child try the GFCF (Gluten-free Casein-free) Diet?
Some are touting neurofeedback as the cure for everything from epilepsy to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is also being promoted by some as a cure for both autism and ADHD. Neurofeedback, or as it is sometimes called, EEG biofeedback, has been around for a long time. Way back in the groovy 70’s neurofeedback was being investigated as a possible treatment for ADHD symptoms among other things. Basically neurofeedback is a way to “retrain the brain” to produce electrical patterns eliciting greater focus and calm.
During a typical neurofeedback session the child sits in front of a computer monitor while electrodes are attached to his or her head and to an EEG machine. The child then plays a video game where they might fly a plane simply by producing brainwaves consistent with an alert focused state. If the child’s mind wanders and the child loses focus, then the virtual airplane’s flight stops. The facilitator encourages the child to stay in that focused brain state to keep the game going.
Can this treatment help the child with ADHD? Possibly. But as for curing ADHD, this has not been proven.
The reviews are very mixed. Most of the studies on neurofeedback have had serious flaws and some studies had been run by individuals with a financial stake in finding positive outcomes. This method also has a hefty price tag. People who run the neurofeedback facility may charge a hundred dollars or more per session and they typically recommend 40-60 sessions.
You can read more about neurofeedback for ADHD in the following news articles:
• U.S News and World Report (2009) “Neurofeedback: An ADHD Treatment That Retrains the Brain?”
• The Washington Post (2004) “All in the Head: Three Approaches to Mental Health Treatment That Stretch the Boundaries—and, Sometimes, Credulity”
Other reported cures for ADHD include:
• Swimming. Check out this 2008 Psychology Today article entitled, “The Swimming Cure for ADHD?”
• While tonsil removal or swimming may have some credibility in helping some children with ADHD, Chelation Therapy does not.
Chelation therapy is the removal of heavy metal toxins from the body. This type of therapy has been touted as a cure for anything from heart disease to autism and ADHD. This “cure” has not been proven to be effective for treating autism or ADHD and in fact, can pose a real danger. There have been people who have died while undergoing this therapy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information about associated deaths with chelation therapy. The web site, Quackwatch, also has a thorough list of articles discrediting chelation therapy on their “Why Chelation Should be Avoided” page.
While some treatments for ADHD may be beneficial for symptom reduction, none of them have research to prove them to be a hundred percent effective as a cure. And some methods or therapies are not only ineffective but also pose serious medical risks such as chelation.
As a parent and guardian of your child’s well being and safety, you always need to look at any treatment with a skeptical eye and especially if the treatment is being promoted as some sort of cure. Most reputable ADHD organizations will tell you that there is no cure for ADHD. But symptoms can be managed quite successfully.
What is your opinion of all this? What “cures” have you heard about for ADHD? Do you feel that any of them work or are they just a way for some people to sensationalize a story or to make money? Do you think that ADHD or autism can be cured? Let us know your viewpoint. We always love to hear from you!